Update: Deadline reports that Eddie Murphy is now officially on board to host the Oscars. Career comeback? Between this and “Tower Heist” it could well be. However “A Thousand Words” and the “Hong Kong Phooey” movie say otherwise.
Somewhere out there, if you listen carefully, you can hear a catty blogger still making a remark about how Anne Hathaway was desperate-to-please and James Franco was eternally disinterested during last year’s Oscars. This train of thought neglects a couple of inherent truths: one being that it doesn’t really matter who hosts the Oscars, since that’s about twenty minutes of banter in the middle of a four and a half hour show, and another being that the Oscar show itself is a bloated spectacle that entertains less often than it’s just simply exhausting. So forgive us if it makes sense that Eddie Murphy would be considered to host the 84th annual ceremony in 2012. Not only has he never shown any interest in cinema, and not only is he generally indifferent to his own body of work, but he hasn’t been relevant in more than a decade.
The producer of this year’s ceremony, Brett Ratner, has reportedly fingered Murphy as a potential host, sensible given that they recently collaborated on this fall’s “Tower Heist.” Apparently Murphy is “showing interest” but his name still needs to pass muster with the Academy board, most of whom are probably keeping their fingers crossed for Bob Hope. Murphy drew negative attention in 2007 when he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for “Dreamgirls” and lost to Alan Arkin, only to immediately leave the ceremony after the winner was announced. And this isn’t the first time he’s metaphorically given the finger to the Kodak Theater.
Murphy also made enemies when he presented the Best Picture Oscar in 1988. Though he was in a joking spirit, he noted that the Academy should be ashamed of not recognizing black performers, basically using the stage as a platform for a conversation far more important than whatever won Best Picture that year (bet you don’t remember without Googling). As Movies.com notes, the late Robert Wise, the then-head of the Academy, vowed that Murphy would not be invited back as long as he was in charge, but he’s dead now, so whatever, right?
But the bigger question is whether or not this is even a good idea. Oscar hosting has always required a curious chemical balance between strong writing (which is hit and miss at best) and a performer who can do the tricky balance between being classy and hilarious. Over the past few years, the Academy has been dabbling with bigger stars — if only for the ratings — with mixed results. Hugh Jackman and the duo of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin were mostly successful. Hathaway and Franco, in a pretty transparent bid for a younger audience, was pretty much a disaster. As for Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart they were pretty much forgettable. Can Murphy be given the right material to shine or will it be another awkward fit?
The decision is not yet a done-deal, with a number of performers reportedly pitching their talents as potential hosts. Furthermore, while he may or may not be hosting, Deadline reveals that frequent MC Billy Crystal — easily the most enjoyable and successful host of recent times — will have a “showcase” role (which makes us wonder why they don’t just give the gig in the first place). Meanwhile, the Murphy decision proves curious, since his background in stand-up comedy is a plus, though it’s a show business muscle he hasn’t exercised in a quarter of a century. Will Murphy cut loose like he used to in his old years? Or will we be getting old, bitter, cynical Murphy who broods his way through embarrassing family films waiting for producers to cut the check? Murphy will next be seen in “Tower Heist” opening on November 4th, while the long-shelved “A Thousand Words” is set for release on January 12th.